A continuing push to stigmatize welfare recipients has taken a new and deplorable form in Tennessee, where State Rep. Stacey Campfield — author of the “don’t say gay” bill — has suggested that parents in families on assistance be held to a higher standard of academic excellence for their children, or face starvation.
Stacey Campbell has had it in for the poor and welfare recipients for some time, and has proposed drug testing measures in the past for those who get public assistance.
Masking his Jonathan Swiftian proposal as an initiative for “breaking the cycle of poverty,” Campbell opts to use hunger as a motivator rather than say, bolstering educational programs for at-risk or low-income Tennessean kids. The conservative lawmaker frames the myriad challenges facing financially strapped Americans as one of “accountability” rather than a years-long soft job market and skyrocketing living costs coupled with wages that have remained flat for decades.
According to Campbell, it’s simply a matter of watching their kids starve that will inspire the working poor — many of whom hold down two or three jobs and still qualify for assistance — and no educational or school-based initiatives would be a better approach than depriving already deprived children of basic nutritional sustenance.
The Tennessee lawmaker and welfare opponent writes:
“The third leg of the stool (probably the most important leg) is the parents. We have done little to hold them accountable for their child’s performance. What my bill would do is put some responsibility on parents for their child’s performance.”
Campbell’s proposal is wracked with so many ignored factors it’s difficult to know where to start. Families on assistance may be more impacted, for instance, by the work involved with an undiagnosed special needs child, thereby reducing their flexibility in the workplace and limiting their ability to earn as much as they might if their child were not challenged.
Following on from that, kids on welfare are also more likely to live in single-parent households, one where one parent must earn all the money and do all the parenting. Holding these families to a higher standard of academic output when the deck is already stacked against them is not only mathematically a losing proposal, it’s downright cruel.
According to Campbell, the welfare sanction is about helping kids, not punishing parents — but it is difficult to see how that pans out in any meaningful way. The lawmaker claims:
“The goal is not to punish anyone. No one will necessarily or instantly lose benefits because of this bills passage. The goal is to encourage parents to do what they should already be doing. We have to start breaking the cycle of generational poverty.”
I’m not a lawmaker, an elected official or a sociologist, but I have never seen a study or data that suggests starvation, stigmatization or otherwise humiliating struggling families is a factor in “breaking the cycle of poverty.” Factoring in that poor families on welfare are already tasked with feeding, housing and educating children with limited resources, it seems a foregone conclusion academic excellence is just one area they will fall behind in, starving or not.
Education works. Consistent access to healthy food and positive reinforcement works. But, as Nashville Scene points out, you have to be several shades of gleefully sadistic to propose withholding food from children to motivate poverty stricken families to “do better.”
The site says:
“Campfield’s nemeses are children. Literal, actual children. It’s no challenge for a 40-year-old man to defeat a kid. There’s no glory in it. You know what people think of a guy who has to win against kids? That he’s pathetic.”
The post continues:
“It’s worse than plotting against Smurfs. I mean, they’re small but at least they’re adults. It’s like Campfield looked around and said, ‘Hmm, I don’t want to piss off any lobbyists. Who can’t afford a lobbyist? Oh, right — poor kids. Great. I’ll try to find ways to make their lives worse.’”
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers … you do unto me. — Some Longhair Hippie Socialist.
As the latest ridiculous welfare ban floated by Campbell (who actually, unironically claims to be a Christian) on the web, it seems apt to ask, who would Jesus starve? The little children?